Recently, I received a rare student complaint over an e-mail I had sent to all my classes. In the e-mail, which welcomed all of my students back for a new semester, I characterized myself as an “outspoken Christian professor.” I admitted that I had been critical of some aspects of Darwinism and that I saw my students as more than mere “random mutations.” Finally, I said my Christian views would cause me to treat them differently – namely, by holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.
The remarks in this e-mail were all couched within the context of the story of a former student of mine. He had often come to class late and talked throughout my lectures – at least until he received a poor grade on his first exam. Afterwards, I castigated him for his conduct and told him he would never become anything until he learned to act like an adult and to fulfill his God-given potential.
Adams goes on to lament the policing of professors by administrators and students’ expectations that they shouldn’t be offended. He believes, rightly so I think, that teachers should be able to tell students their religious beliefs. But he doesn’t seem to understand that timing and context matter, or that he wasn’t just sharing his religious beliefs. Telling your students your religious beliefs in an introductory email seems to forefront the issue far too much. Why share this? It’s not in the context of any course material. But what really bothers me is that he seems to have missed the point that he’s gone beyond sharing his religious views: he’s enforcing a religious telos on the class: his goal as a teacher, as stated in his email, isn’t related to the educational mission of his department (criminal justice) or his university (UNC-Wilmington), but is instead to “help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.”
This isn’t a case of free speech, or of students being too sensitive, as Adams claims it is. If I were that tardy, talkative student who had failed my first exam, and my professor told me that I wouldn’t amount to anything until I fulfilled my “God-given potential,” I’d complain to the department as well. Why? Because it’s not professional for a teacher to tell his student that God has a purpose for him. (I also don’t think it’s professional to tell a student they won’t amount to anything. I think it’s better to focus on behaviors, not persons.)
Go read the World-O-Crap post. It’s snarkier than I.
(h/t Oregon Robot)